Federal Funding Will Establish New Community Court Diversionary Program

Tennessee’s Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) recently received $200,000 in federal funding to establish a new community court serving offenders in early adulthood.

The C.A.R.E. (Creating Avenues for Restoration & Empowerment) court will be created using funds that the AOC, on behalf of the General Sessions Music City Community Court, received after being named one of five 2018 Community Court Grant Program winners.   The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, in partnership with the Center for Court Innovation, made the announcement.

In addition to funding, the AOC will also receive technical assistance from the Center for Court Innovation to implementthe C.A.R.E. court, which serves offenders aged 18 to 26. 

Community courts respond to lower level crimes by ordering individuals to pay back the communities they’ve harmed through visible community service projects. The courts simultaneously address the underlying issues fueling criminal behavior, through drug and alcohol treatment, mental health services, and job training. While the C.A.R.E. court will be the first of its kind in Nashville, national research has shown that the community court model can reduce crime and substance use, increase services to victims, reduce unnecessary jail time, save money, and improve public confidence in justice.

General Sessions Music City Community Court Presiding Judge Rachel L. Bell explained some of the basics of the new court.

“The restorative justice concept that we would like to focus on will emphasize the ways that crime harms relationships in the community and also brings together the people most impacted by the crime to resolve it,” she said. “It will be based on a model similar to Cook County’s new Restorative Justice Community Court in Illinois.  The C.A.R.E. model will ensure that offenders take accountability for their actions and then work to repair the harm through restitution when needed, community service, letters of apology, and peace circles. I am very certain with the C.A.R.E diversionary program in place, this will lead to a healthier community, a brighter future for young offenders, and less crime here in Nashville.”

The C.A.R.E. court has the full support of Nashville Public Defender Martesha L. Johnson and Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk.

“It is time that we create innovative options that provide opportunities to end the cycle of incarceration and increase avenues for restoration and rehabilitation,” Johnson said.  “We support the mission of the C.A.R.E. court mission to divert young adults from the jail population and give them the tools to succeed in the community.”

“Our goal here is to make sure these individuals truly understand the impact their crimes have had on victims and the community as a whole,” Funk said.  “This program offers alternatives to individuals who are truly remorseful and desire a second chance to serve the community in a positive manner.”

The C.A.R.E. court represents another example of the AOC’s commitment to expanding justice in Tennessee. For the past three years, the AOC, together with the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission and the Tennessee Faith and Justice Alliance, has been developing and promoting expungement legal clinics, using the model developed by Judge Bell and her team. 

“While the Access to Justice Initiative generally focuses on civil legal issues, we recognize that many times those issues may be related to a criminal matter,” said Gail Ashworth, chairperson of the ATJ Commission. “We are excited about working with the General Sessions Music City Community Court to launch the C.A.R.E. diversionary program.”

The Tennessee Supreme Court declared access to justice its number one strategic priority in 2008 and created the Access to Justice Commission in 2009.  The Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission provides collaborative leadership to create solutions and resources that address and eliminate barriers to justice for all.  For more information, go to http://www.tncourts.gov/programs/access-justice.

For more information on the General Sessions Music City Community Court’s C.A.R.E. diversionary program, contact Judge Rachel L. Bell.  For more information about the community court model, go to: www.courtinnovation.org/topic/community-courtor email info@courtinnovation.org, or visit http://www.seattle.gov/communitycourt/docs/08Jul_CCourtNews_Inaugural.pdf